In an interesting article, titled “The PMO is not Switzerland“, Andy Jordan argues for an activist role for a PMO. He likens PMO as a peacemaker to the common analogy of “being Switzerland (a country that prides in its neutral geopolitical outlook)”. Jordan says:
If the PMO is not involved at all, then the sponsor will likely get his or her way because they generally have the power in that relationship. If the PMO’s involvement is only to act as peace maker—trying to find a compromise that both sides can live with—then the result will likely be a watered-down change that no one is satisfied with. Compromise frequently results in lose-lose situations. (source)
I would look at the situation differently.
Ambiguity and conflict arise in a system when the rules of engagement are either not clear, or not properly enforced.
Contrary to a PMO being involved as being a sign of its competence, I would argue that it is actually a pointer to the lack of rigor in the process that PMO has not created.
The right way to do is to have the right process institutionalized for managing scope and stakeholders within the overall project management structure of the company.
Like we have discussed in our post Definitive Guide on Managing Project Scope Creep – the best way to handle ambiguities that arise in situations of conflicts is to institutionalize the process. It is only in the cases where there is no clear cut methodology that individual players have to start using their own personal capital and skills to get past those situations.
If the Change Control Board within the purview of the PMO is an automatic go-to alternative in scope change situations, such that the Change Control Board includes the right stakeholders, including the executives who can make the right decisions, then do we really need to depend on non-activist (Switzerland) PM or an activist (USA) PM?
A PM who follows the processes which are well thought out should be the way to go.
How to handle tough situations via PMO
So, here are the things that a PMO which has a well thought out project management processes should be doing:
What type of PMO are you?
There are three types of PMOs – Supportive, Controlling and Directive. A Supportive PMO does not provide much benefit for long. That is why in the evolution of a PMO, such a state should exist only for one year at most. In properly administered PMOs, such a state would only exist for 6 months at most. The ideal PMO would be the Controlling PMO, which provides enough processes and procedures that unites all projects within the organization under its purview. Directive PMO would, on the other hand, take away the initiative from the Project managers, that they need to exercise for the flexibility that is required in every project.
Create rigorous processes
There are certain processes – like approval for alignment to Architecture (ARB), Toll-gate approvals, Change Control Boards, Testing implementation, Resource management, Budget allocations, Value management – that need to have proper procedures which should kick-in at the appropriate times.
Easy and intuitive use of tools
It is not enough to create the processes. What use are rigorous processes which have convoluted procedures? The tools to accomplish different approvals or processes should be intuitive and simple. Remember, project manager is for managing projects and NOT to waddle through tons of documents and tools. If that is what you want the folks heading the projects to do, then hire administrative assistants for that, not project managers. Convoluted and complex tools with no room for flexibility or margin for error are the biggest roadblocks for good results in project management. So, follow the age-old adage – Keep it Simple, Stupid!
Even after this, project managers who are pressed for time and have immense work pressure may still need help in tough situations to ensure that their project stays on track. Projects should not fall back or fail for not following the processes to the T or because the PM does not remember each detail. That is why PMO needs to realize that it is there to help PMs manage a project, NOT to test their IQ and knowledge or memory.
Doing something right does not mean having ‘walking-on-water’ stars in every team. If an organization has to run right, it needs the correct processes and proper implementation of those processes which is effective. So, if there is any major issue that the PMO is seeing in any situation, then it needs to institutionalize procedures and tools that help obviate such situations.